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Gatwick Airport becomes the first British airport to permanently use facial recognition technology for passenger ID checks.

Following numerous self-boarding trials with EasyJet, the technology will allow passengers to walk through security and straight onto an airplane.

Passengers who have chosen to opt-in to use the service will have their faces scanned by the technology. This will then confirm that they are the same person named on their passports and boarding passes.

In the trials, Gatwick found that over 90% of the 20,000 international passengers who tested the technology found that it was easy to use. Additionally the trials identified a significant reduction in queuing time for passengers and faster boarding.

A spokeswoman from Gatwick told BBC News, that currently Gatwick is planning to conduct a second trial in the next six months. The “auto-boarding technology” will be rolled out on eight departure gates in the North Terminal following the runway extension in 2022.

Passengers will still need to present their boarding pass through the bag-check security zone and would still need to scan their passport at the departure gate in order for the system to match their face to the photo.

Despite the spokeswoman from Gatwick stating that the technology had been designed to be “compliant with all data protection law”, it still raises many privacy concerns.

Many passengers may not realise that they have the option to opt out, however Gatwick have stated that passengers can choose to have their passports checked by human staff.

Ioannis Kouvakas from Privacy International commented:

“Placing general or vague signs that merely let individuals know that this technology is being deployed, once individuals are already inside the check-in area, is inadequate, in our view, to satisfy the strict transparency and consent requirements imposed by data-protection laws.

“If this would apply to child travellers… it raises even more concerns, considering the special protection afforded to children’s privacy and the risks associated with having their biometrics taken by the airport private entities.”

The spokeswoman stated that in the next passenger trial no data will be stored and only held during the duration of when the identity check takes places. Additionally that children under a certain age would need parental or guardian consent.

Victoria Guilloit, Partner at Privacy Culture Ltd commented:

“Facial recognition software has many benefits including convenience – particularly for travellers as they don’t have to remember to carry an ID card or passport. The acceptance of wider use in society could also potentially act as a deterrent for crime. It’s positive that Gatwick airport have chosen not to store data in their next trial, minimising the potential of a data breach. However if this form of authentication were to be put into wider use security of (stored data in particular) is paramount as the attacker will, with this identity theft potentially hold the key to multiple accounts held by each individual.”

Article originally published on PrivSec:Report


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